You Be the Judge

NFL Player Claims Workers’ Comp Injury, But Which State Holds Jurisdiction Over His Contract?

Although he only played two games in California, this football player claimed the state had jurisdiction over his injury claim. The court had to decide.
By: | July 30, 2018 • 3 min read

A former football player for the Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits in California, alleging injury to multiple body parts through the course of his National Football League career.

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During his career, he played around 110 football games but only played two games in California. The football teams and insurers denied his claim.

Two of the teams disputed the assertion of California jurisdiction. The player said that he was living in California when he signed his Indianapolis contract.

He asserted that he did not remember where he was when he signed the agreement but that his agent, whose principal place of business was in California, negotiated the terms of the agreement.

The workers’ compensation judge found that the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) had jurisdiction over the claim for benefits, finding that his agent negotiated the contract in California.

The WCAB reversed, finding that the player and his agent were not in California when the employment was accepted and the contract was signed. The WCAB also found that the limited number of games the player played in California undermined a finding of jurisdiction.

The player appealed.

Did the WCAB properly determine that California lacked jurisdiction over his claim?

How the Court Ruled

  • A. No. The player had been hired in California when his agent negotiated the contract terms.
  • B. Yes. The player’s contract was not formed in California.
  • C. No. Even though the player was not hired in California, he played two games in the state that contributed to his cumulative injury.

A is incorrect. The court explained the parties did not sign the agreement in California. The fact that the agent negotiated the contract terms in California was not enough.

C is incorrect. The court rejected the player’s argument that the WCAB had jurisdiction over his claim, because he played two games in California during his career, which contributed to his cumulative injury. The court found that the player’s cumulative injury occurred at his retirement rather than during any particular game, including the two games played in California.

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B is correct. In Tripplett v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, et al., No. G054825 (Cal. Ct. App. 06/28/18, unpublished), the California Court of Appeal held that it did not have jurisdiction over the player’s claim.

The court explained that when courts have the issue of determining the location at which an injured worker was hired for purposes of workers’ compensation law, they apply traditional principles of contract law.

Here, the agent’s negotiations were the only contract-related activity that took place in California. The court noted that the player said he had such trust in his agent, he did what the agent advised, but he acknowledged that he had “the final say.” The court found no basis to conclude the contract was formed in California.

The court found that the outcome remained the same even if the agent had authority to bind him to an oral agreement. The court pointed out the written agreement included a clause specifying it superseded any prior oral agreement entered into between the parties.

Editor’s note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.

Christina Lumbreras is a Legal Editor for Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]